Red Zone Rebound

RALEIGH, N.C. -- NC State's success in the redzone has played a major role in their fast start this season.

Games are often won inside the 20-yard line. Good defensive teams get stops and force turnovers or field goals. Strong offensive teams not only make multiple trips into the red zone, but they turn possessions into touchdowns and rarely settle for field goals.

Last year NC State was a mess, on both sides of the ball, in the red zone.

The Wolfpack defense was shredded in 2013. They were No. 120 nationally in touchdown percentage inside the redzone (80%), as opposing teams scored 32 touchdowns in 40 red zone attempts. Just six times did the Wolfpack force field goals, and only two times did they allow zero points.

It's still early, but improvements have been made. Through three games, NC State is No. 32 in touchdown percentage inside the red zone (38.5%), as opponents have scored just five touchdowns in 11 red zone attempts. Teams have had to settle for field goals on four other possessions and came away scoreless twice.

"We take pride in the red zone defense," said senior defensive tackle Thomas Teal. "It's one of our strong points at the moment."

Offensively the improvements have been even more noticeable.

NC State's 2013 offense couldn't score touchdowns, at all. The Pack had 39 red zone possessions, and they scored touchdowns just 17 times... the 43.6% touchdown conversion percentage ranked No. 123 out of 125 teams. As you can guess, kicker Niklas Sade was a busy man, connecting on 13 field goals from inside the 20-yard line.

The Wolfpack also had nine possessions out of the 39 attempts where they didn't score any points. Overall, they were No. 103 in red zone conversion percentage (30-of-39, 76.9%).

With Jacoby Brissett leading the way, this year's squad has made it a strength.

NC State has already scored 13 red zone touchdowns, just four less than last season. Their touchdown conversion percentage (81.3%) is 15th nationally, as they've scored 13 touchdowns on 16 red zone attempts.

For head coach Dave Doeren, the reasons for the effectiveness inside the red zone has been clear.

"We have an accurate quarterback," said Doeren. "And, we can run the football."

They were especially successful in Saturday's win over South Florida. The Wolfpack scored touchdowns all six drives into the red zone, and the only time the Bulls advanced inside the 20-yard line they were forced to kick a field goal.

And Doeren is right, Brissett has been accurate and the Pack has been able to run the football. What's the biggest reason? The offensive line has made major strides, is healthy, and is playing really well right now.

With that group performing at a high level, they've been able to be balanced offensively which really puts pressure on opposing defenses.

"It helps a lot when those five guys get to play together and really we are playing six now because Tony (Adams) is rotating in there," said Doeren. "They get to know each other, they play with each other, and they know what that guy is going to do and how he would play off of his block. It's a really tight unit and it helps when you see guys getting better.

"Last year in game three, Joe Thuney had played three different positions by now. We had our third different tackle plan and we were on our second quarterback and it was just different. I do think being able to throw the football does help our offensive line... it takes some of the pressure off of them.

"The way Coach Canada is doing it with the run game there's a lot of different things for the defense to have to worry about so you can't just run up and blitz. There are a lot of things going on."

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